MAINE, USA — With energy costs soaring and fuel supplies tightening, many Maine families are concerned about heating their homes this winter.
On Tuesday, the state of Maine was awarded $42.5 million through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides funding to help low-income households pay their energy bills, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a release.
Last year, more than 30,000 Maine households benefitted from LIHEAP, according to Collins.
The Energy Department projects heating bills will jump 28% this winter for those who rely on natural gas, used by nearly half of U.S. households for heat. Heating oil is projected to be 27% higher and electricity 10% higher, the agency said.
Collins and Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, led efforts to include $4 billion for LIHEAP in the fiscal year 2022 appropriations package that was signed into law earlier this year. In the release Tuesday, Collins said she was pleased President Joe Biden's administration distributed the funds as quickly as possible.
"With the average price of home heating oil currently a staggering $5.42 per gallon, it is going to be extraordinarily challenging for many Maine families to stay warm this winter,” Collins said. “Given the sharp increase in energy prices this year, this funding will be essential to helping ensure that low-income families and seniors do not have to make the impossible choice between paying for heat and paying for food or medicine."
LIHEAP is a federally funded program that helps low-income households with their home energy bills by providing payment and/or energy crisis assistance to pay for heating oil, gas, electric, and other methods customers use to heat their homes. Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size, and the availability of resources.
For information on how to apply, click here.
A number of factors are converging to create a bleak situation: Global energy consumption has rebounded from the start of the pandemic, and supply was barely keeping pace before the war in Ukraine further reduced supplies.
In the town of Jay, Aaron Raymo saw the writing on the wall and began stocking up on heating oil in 5-gallon increments over the summer as costs crept upward. He filled a container with heating oil as he could afford it, usually on paydays, and used a heating assistance program to top off his 275-gallon oil tank with the arrival of colder weather.
His family is trying to avoid being forced into a difficult decision — choosing between food or heating their home.
“It’s a hard one,” he told the Associated Press. “What are you going to choose for food, or what amount of fuel oil are you going to choose to stay warm?”
Some are seeking help who've never done so in the past. In Auburn, 72-year-old Mario Zullo said he worked all his life and never asked for help until last year when he received heating assistance last year. The program helped upgrade his heating.
“It came to us at a time when we needed it the most,” Zullo said.
Mark Wolfe, executive director of NEADA, said he fears the federally funded program won't be enough because of the high cost of energy and continued instability in energy markets. It could be even worse if the winter is especially cold, he said.
“The crisis is coming,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty and factors in play that could drive these prices higher.”
Maine has the nation’s oldest population, and it’s the most reliant on heating oil, creating a double whammy.
“People are scared. They’re worried. They’re frustrated," Lisa McGee, who coordinates the heating aid program for Community Concepts Inc. in Lewiston, said. “There’s more anxiety this year.”